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Full text of "Rapid Population Growth Consequences And Policy Implications"

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service, by every society's intention to shoulder collectively some of the costs of raising children, notably the cost of schooling. If a policy suggested in the preceding paragraph is actually adopted, its implicit philosophy may be more realistically described as follows: (a) Families should be permitted to act in their best interest as they see it in setting the level of their fertility, and society should extend help to render that freedom effective, (b) Society as a whole should accommodate itself to the sum total of these individual decisions as best as it can. Clearly, such a policy of enlightened laissez-faire is ideal only if the implicit Adam Smithian assumptions about the harmony of private and social interest are actually fulfilled. If externalities are present, utility-maximizing behavior within each family can no longer be trusted to add up to a social optimum and a prima facie case exists for governmental intervention to help achieve such an optimum.
The Case for Governmental Intervention. Consider, as the simplest example, a situation in which externalities manifest themselves merely in the form of an interdependence of individual utilities. Assume that in a society all families traditionally have high fertility, but now each family realizes that it has a choice and may opt for low fertility. Assume furthermore that each family actually prefers to take that option provided that all other families do likewise. Under the circumstances the natural expectation about other families' behavior is that it continues to be the traditional one; therefore, the rational choice for each family will be to preserve the old behavior. Government, by maintaining constant communication and assuring each family that if it chooses low fertility, all others will do likewise, can bring about a situation preferred by everyone to the old order and do so without violating in any way the principle of voluntary action by each family.
What happens to voluntariness if/the assumptions underlying the game are slightly altered? Suppose again that families do prefer low fertility to high fertility, provided every other family chooses low fertility. But suppose that, once assured that all other families will elect to have low fertility, each family prefers high fertility for itself. A simple-minded example may give some plausibility to such behavioral assumptions. Suppose that children are desired because they provide both (a) parental satisfaction and (b) old age security,